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Originally published November 8, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 10, 2005 at 8:01 PM

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Corrected version

Seattle's 2 papers record circulation declines

The Seattle Times and the Post-Intelligencer saw circulation declines accelerate in the latest reporting period, but officials at both papers...

Special to The Seattle Times

The Seattle Times and the Post-Intelligencer saw circulation declines accelerate in the latest reporting period, but officials at both papers said they expect to see their papers' circulation level out by next year.

According to the figures released Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, an industry trade group, The Times' daily circulation for the six-month period ended Sept. 30 was 215,502, down nearly 7 percent from 231,051 a year earlier.

The P-I's circulation in the same period fell 9 percent, to 132,694 from 145,964.

The combined papers' Sunday circulation dropped nearly 5 percent, to 441,398 from 462,920.

The local circulation figures mirrored declines at many major papers across the country.

The Hearst Corp., which owns the P-I, said circulation at its San Francisco Chronicle dropped 16.5 percent.

Circulation losses were also reported by The Washington Post, about 4 percent; and Los Angeles Times, about 7 percent; as well as by the Knight Ridder newspaper chain, which has 32 papers in cities such as Miami, Philadelphia and San Jose, Calif.

The nation's second-largest newspaper chain, Knight Ridder reported overall circulation fell about 2 percent daily and 3.5 percent Sunday. The company owns 49.5 percent of The Seattle Times Co.

Industry analysts blame the national declines on several factors, including a shift by advertisers and younger readers to Internet-based and cable-television news and federal restrictions on telemarketing.

Both The Times and P-I have wrestled with additional problems.

Around the Sound

Here are circulation figures for other Puget Sound-area dailies.

The (Tacoma) News Tribune

Daily '05 123,213
Daily '04 127,752
Sunday '05 139,055
Sunday '04 142,876

The (Everett) Herald

Daily '05 49,700
Daily '04 49,948
Sunday '05 53,918
Sunday '04 55,664

King County Journal

Daily '05 40,515
Daily '04 41,585
Sunday '05 39,711
Sunday '04 41,671

Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations

They operate under a joint-operating agreement (JOA), in which The Times prints, distributes and markets both papers. The papers publish separately but pool their revenue, with The Times getting 60 percent and the P-I 40 percent after The Times is paid for its non-news operations.

Both papers have been locked in a bitter legal and public-relations fight over the JOA since April 2003. The Times seeks to end or amend the agreement, contending that falling P-I circulation has caused The Times to lose money under the JOA from 2000 through 2004.

The agreement allows either paper to make moves that could shut one paper or end the agreement after that paper posts three consecutive years of losses.

In April 2003, The Times notified Hearst it had lost money under the JOA from 2000 to 2002. Times officials added 2003 and 2004 to their loss list in September.

Hearst sued in state court to block The Times' efforts, challenging the validity of the losses and saying the P-I can't survive without the agreement.

Last June, the state Supreme Court ruled The Times' loss claims for 2000 and 2001 were valid. Hearst attorneys have said they plan to challenge the 2002 claims in court this fall.

While the JOA strife does not directly affect circulation of either Seattle paper, Times officials doubled the papers' single-copy price to 50 cents in March after recording revenue losses.

The Times also trimmed distribution to outlying areas, including Eastern Washington, where circulation costs outpace newspaper revenues. The papers also cut their-door-to-door circulation solicitation.

In an internal memo in September, Times officials said the moves have resulted in "significant" cost savings.

Times spokeswoman Jill Mackie said Monday that much of the latest circulation drop resulted from a one-time impact of the cost-cutting measures.

"If we hadn't made the budgetary changes that we did, our circulation trend line [for the latest six-month period] would have showed a modest decline," Mackie said.

Both Mackie and P-I Publisher Roger Oglesby said they expect circulation at their papers to stabilize next year. "We believe that a year from now we'll be cycling back to a more positive trend," Mackie said.

But University of Washington journalism professor Douglas Underwood said Seattle's dailies are not likely to escape the same downward pressure facing the broader industry.

Underwood, a former Times reporter and author of books on newspaper economics, said newspapers lost their chance to protect their print circulation by not charging for access to their Internet Web sites.

Most newspaper Web sites, including both Seattle papers', do not charge viewers. "When you give the paper away for free on the Internet," said Underwood, "people say, 'Why pay to have the same news land on your front porch in paper form?' "

Mackie and Oglesby said that while print circulation figures have declined, the papers' online audience has grown.

The P-I has been recording about 25 million page views per month at its Web site, Oglesby said, up about 13 percent for the six months ended Sept. 30 from the similar period last year.

Mackie declined to disclose The Times' monthly page views but said they are growing.

According to figures released yesterday by the Newspaper Association of America, an industry trade group, The Times' monthly online audience was 1.99 million, compared with the P-I's 1.32 million.

"We feel the online audience number is the best representation of the size of the online audience for each paper," Mackie said.

Newspapers charge advertisers according to the number of page views. In The Times' September staff memo, Mike Lemke, the paper's senior vice president for sales and marketing, said Times revenue from its online advertising rose 28 percent through September, compared with a similar period in 2004.

Bill Richards is a freelance writer hired on a special contract by The Seattle Times to cover events involving the joint-operating agreement with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He can be reached at

CORRECTION: The Tacoma News Tribune had a circulation of 123,213 for the six months ending Sept. 30, according to the newspaper. As a result of a typographical error in numbers provided by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, an earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the circulation as 128,213.

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